#YCW2020: A spotlight on our freshwater and wetland habitats for World Water Day

This year’s message for World Water DayWater and Climate Change – Everyone Has a Role to Play – stresses the need for us to use water wisely and care for our watery habitats and species. With increasingly extreme changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, water may become more unpredictable or scarce. Clean and healthy waters are a valuable part of our nature-rich future. Find out how SNH is working to protect and restore them for future generations.

WWD photo - Little Gruinard River - Lorne Gill (A3196022)

Little Gruinard River ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scotland is renowned for the beauty of its rivers, lochs and wetlands, and these waters are valued by residents and visitors alike. Activities such as kayaking, open water swimming, riverside walks or a simple game of Pooh sticks enrich our personal wellbeing and happiness. With a high annual rainfall, Scotland’s watercourses flow throughout our land, carving the landscape to produce a wide range of specialised habitats. Waterfalls, mountain streams and corrie pools in the uplands contrast dramatically with larger lochs, wetlands and slower-flowing rivers in the lowlands.

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Waterfall ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Freshwater and wetland habitats provide a variety of ‘ecosystem services’ – benefits that are vital to our way of life. We rely directly on water for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses. Less obvious are the ‘regulating’ benefits provided by these habitats.  Water quality is maintained by natural filtration – an ongoing catchment process which helps to keep our waters free of finer sediments whilst recycling nutrients and maintaining fertile floodplains.

Flood peaks are buffered by slowing the flow of water downstream, and rivers with a natural connection to their floodplain are better able to protect us from the impacts of flooding, erosion and drought. All of these services will become more valuable as the impacts of climate change intensify. As such, we have an important role to play in maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems to enhance their resilience.

SNH is working with land managers and other organisations to take action on climate change. At our Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve, one of the UK’s largest bogs, a wetland feature called lagg fen is being created around the moss edge by sealing off old drainage ditches and building a bund of compressed peat and clay to hold up water flowing off the peatland. This marshy area helps the bog by raising the water table, making it wetter and more resilient in dry periods. The lagg fen is also a valuable wetland habitat in its own right: at Flanders, snipe and teal love it! The production of organic beef from the cattle that graze there is an added bonus.

SNH is also currently assessing the potential effects of climate change on water scarcity in wetlands across Scotland. Climate data are being analysed to indicate sites at greatest risk from prolonged summer drought. This work will provide us with mitigation strategies to help prevent negative impacts on these precious habitats.

Meanwhile our Biodiversity Challenge Fund is supporting a number of riparian planting projects across Scotland, funding planting of native deciduous trees alongside riverbanks to increase shading. The creation and restoration of riverside woodland in Sutherland, Aberdeenshire and the Borders will benefit fish, invertebrates and other animals by reducing water temperatures during the height of summer, whilst enhancing other aspects of in-stream habitat through inputs of leaf litter and woody debris.

WWD photo - Riverside tree planting on the River Muick to increase shading - Lorne Gill (A3196045)

Riverside tree planting on the River Muick to increase shading © Lorne Gill/SNH

Salmon and trout are especially vulnerable, as warm rivers can severely affect their growth and survival. Consequently, Marine Scotland has been developing computer models to predict changes in river temperatures across Scotland, and highlight stretches that will become the warmest and most vulnerable to summer peaks. These models will help to inform new tree planting strategies; by planting on southern banks, alongside shallow areas or slower flowing waters, the benefits of shading can be maximised.

Understanding and adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect human health and our way of life, while strengthening the resilience of our freshwater and wetland habitats. We can all play a part in the wise use of water and contribute to the future protection of this valuable resource.

The World Water Day website offers you more information and resources to help your celebrate, understand and promote the special value of water. Please visit SNH’s Managing Freshwater page for more information on the conservation and management of these habitats.

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